Babies sneeze, and although it can be completely normal, a lot of parents question whether or not their babies’ sneezing is normal or cause for concern.
Afraid your infant is sneezing more than normal? We talked to Jacqueline Winkelmann, MD, FAAP, aka “Dr. Jacq,” to find out what’s normal and what’s not.
How much newborn sneezing is normal sneezing?
Newborn sneezing is not only common but necessary. Just like adults, newborns sneeze as a reflex to help clear particles and obstructions.
“Even if it seems like your baby is sneezing a lot, chances are it is totally normal,” says Dr. Jacq.
If your baby sneezes without other symptoms of illness (fever, cough, congestion, trouble breathing) or allergies, it is probably nothing to worry about. Still, if your baby is sneezing regularly, not just on occasion, you want to know the reason why.
Here are some of the most common reasons why babies sneeze:
- Babies have tiny noses: Because they have small nostrils and nasal passages, babies need to clear their noses more frequently than adults. The tiny spaces in their noses trap the same dirt and particles that ours do, but in a much smaller space.
The solution? More frequent clearing by sneezing.
- More mucus: Babies have more mucus in their nasal passages and cavities than adults. Bottle feedings and spit up can also cause excess mucus to form, which can lead your baby to sneeze.
- Flattened nostrils: Sometimes, a baby’s nostril can get flattened while nursing, which is why it’s important to check your baby’s position when you feed them.
If the nostril has become “squished” against itself, sneezing helps reopen the passageway.
- To clear irritants: When a baby is exposed to smoke, perfumes, or dust, they will feel the need to sneeze to clear the irritant from their nose, just like an adult.
- Allergies and/or illness: Sometimes, sneezing can be caused by illness or allergies. Normally, however, sneezing won’t be the only symptom your baby has. Other symptoms will usually be present, indicating they might be sick or are allergic to an external stressor.
Still not convinced their sneezing is completely normal? You might consider whether or not your baby has an allergy.
What types of allergies cause sneezing?
It’s very rare for children under a year old to have seasonal allergies like adults. Instead, a baby with an allergy is usually allergic to a particular food ingredient, medication, or environmental allergen.
Dr. Jacq says it’s important to know whether one or both parents have allergies. If so, it is more likely that their child will have allergies and/or eczema.
Dr. Jacq advises that allergies in infancy and childhood can be divided into three categories.
Allergies from food or medicines
This is the most common type of allergy that affects babies and children. Almost three million kids have food allergies or roughly four out of every 100 kids.
The most common food allergens affecting children are:
- Dairy protein (milk)
- Tree nuts
- Fish and shellfish
Symptoms of a food allergy may include sneezing, but will also include itchy, watery eyes, skin irritation like rashes, hives, and itchiness, lip and/or tongue swelling when exposed to the allergen, throat constriction, wheezing or trouble breathing. It might also include gastrointestinal discomforts like vomiting and diarrhea.
These types of allergies are less common in babies less than a year old, but in rare cases, allergies to environmental triggers like pets, shampoos, lotions, dust mites, detergent, or household cleaners can be present.
Your child will sneeze but might also have dark circles under their eyes, which will normally be red and itchy. Your baby might also experience congestion and/or wheezing.
Seasonal allergies for babies
Seasonal allergies are rare in children under the age of two, mostly because they must be exposed to pollen or seasonal allergy triggers for a longer period of time in order to develop the allergy.
Symptoms of seasonal allergies include sneezing, itchy, watery eyes, coughing, and runny nose.
Common food allergies in babies and suggested food swaps
Food allergies in babies are the most common type of allergy in a child under the age of one.. Dr. Jacq says babies and children who have one food allergy may oftentimes have multiple allergies.
If you suspect your child might have a food allergy, discuss with their pediatrician or pediatric allergist; testing will help clarify the issue. Once you’ve found the source of the allergy, you can look for alternatives.
Not sure what you can substitute for common food allergies? Here are some suggestions.
- Milk: If your baby has a dairy allergy, there are a plethora of non-dairy alternatives available.
Options include soy, oat, rice, and a variety of nut milks. Just be sure you introduce these foods slowly. Soy and nuts can also be allergens in children, so you’ll want to make sure your child isn’t allergic to those foods before giving them large amounts.
- Egg: You can opt for an egg substitute. Mung bean is often used by the vegan community as an egg substitute and is also high in protein.
- Nuts: If your child is allergic to nuts, Dr. Jacq advises eliminating nuts from your child’s diet. Read product labels for food allergy information. Some kids can tolerate sunflower seed butter, but if your child has a strong allergy, avoid nuts and seeds altogether unless approved by your child’s allergist.
- Fish/Shellfish: This is another food that is best completely eliminated from your child’s diet if allergic. There are vegan fish options available, but it’s best to read the ingredients to make sure it doesn’t contain other potential allergens. Many times, these substitutes contain soy protein, which can cross-react and cause problems..
- Soy: Look for soy-free products. The good news is, soy is usually used as a substitute for another allergy, so generally, aside from avoiding soy-based products like tofu or soybeans, you shouldn’t have an issue making up nutrients in your child’s diet.
- Wheat gluten: Because gluten sensitivity is more commonly diagnosed, we’ve seen a huge rise in gluten-free products. Finding breads and other grain products that do not contain wheat gluten is now easier than ever before.
If you find your child has an allergy, you’ll have to be diligent in ensuring your child avoids it. Once you learn to make proper substitutions, your child’s allergy won’t seem like it requires that much of a lifestyle adjustment.
Other signs of food allergies
Food allergies can range from mild to severe. Dr. Jacq says food allergies “tend to have multisystem involvement: usually skin, respiratory, and gastrointestinal,” which means your child might have a range of symptoms across these systems.
If your child does have a food allergy, you should make yourself aware of the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
Signs of an emergency allergic reaction
Although you’ll do your best to ensure your child doesn’t ingest food they are allergic to, you should know the signs of an allergic reaction so you can give them the care they need if they’ve inadvertently eaten a food that contains a known allergen.
Mild allergic reaction symptoms
Mild symptoms may be what prompted you to get your child tested for a food allergy in the first place. Symptoms can include:
- Itchy, runny nose and/or congestion;
- In older babies and children itching in the mouth;
- Mild hives or rash that may itch and may be located in one spot; and
- Mild gastrointestinal discomfort like gas, a loose stool, or nausea.
These symptoms indicate your child has likely eaten something containing their known food allergy.
Severe allergic reaction symptoms
If your child has a severe allergy (which can be very common with nut allergies), they may experience severe symptoms that need immediate medical attention. Symptoms may include:
- Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, or otherwise struggling for air;
- Pale complexion, blueish tint or blue lips, weak pulse, and in older children, dizziness;
- Tightness and/or hoarseness trying to speak; obvious trouble swallowing;
- Significant swelling of lips and tongue;
- Hives and rash over large areas of the body;
- Vomiting, diarrhea, severe gastrointestinal discomfort; and
- In older kids, anxiety and/or confusion.
If you suspect your child is having a severe reaction to a food allergy, use an epi pen if prescribed by your child’s allergist and call 911 immediately.
Dr Jacq says you should discuss a rescue plan with your child’s pediatrician, and involve daycare staff, teachers, and coaches so that everyone is aware of the allergy and what to do in an emergency situation.
Tips to comfort an allergic baby
“The only way to comfort a baby that has a food allergy is to avoid the trigger food,” advises Dr. Jacq.
For seasonal and/or environmental allergies, there are steps you can take to help your child feel better.
- For nasal congestion: Dr. Jacq advises using saline (saltwater) drops and suctioning your baby’s nasal passages. This can help clear their airway and allow them to breathe better.
- Steam: Even having your baby in a bouncer in the bathroom while you run a hot bath or shower can give them relief. Steam helps loosen mucus and open nasal passages.
- HEPA filters and/or air purifiers: These devices can help filter allergens from the air, keeping your baby comfortable.
- Extra fluids: If your baby is older than six months, Dr. Jacq advises that it’s okay to give your baby a little water to help thin out the mucus and keep them hydrated.
Happy and healthy sneezing for babies
Your baby is going to sneeze, but if you think there’s reason to believe your baby has an allergy, make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician. Finding the source of your baby’s allergy can help you make necessary adjustments to keep them comfortable and safe.
Disclaimer: This is not a medical diagnosis. If you have any questions regarding your baby, speak to your pediatrician directly.